by Constance Garcia-Barrio
Loretta C. Tate executive director of the Lucien Crump Gallery Art Education Resource Center, 6380 Germantown Ave., has mastered the art of turning grief into light. When Tate’s husband, Lucien Crump, II, founder of Philadelphia’s first black art gallery, died of cancer six years ago at the age of 71, friends’ and neighbors’ pleas to keep the gallery open helped move Tate through pain toward a new purpose.
“At first I felt like I was running the gallery for Lucien,” Tate said of Crump, best known for his “Universal Christ,” which shows Jesus with one brown eye, one blue one and many shades of skin and hair. Tate had always lent a hand with bookkeeping and framing but not the art. She tried to imagine Crump’s views on projects. A shift came after two years. “I’m not an artist. I realized I couldn’t see things as Lucien would have.”
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Tate, a vibrant 60-something, has a health care background that helped her preserve Crump’s legacy and also meet him in the first place. With certification in radiologic technology from Johns Hopkins Hospital in hand in 1968, Tate studied physical therapy on a fellowship at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
In 1972, she changed majors and transferred to St. Louis University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology. After arriving in St. Louis, Tate, out strolling, saw a handmade stainless steel choker in a window. She soon met the owner of the gallery that displayed the choker, Lucien Crump. “He invited me out for a drink,” Tate said.
Their romance flourished. Tate graduated from St. Louis University in 1973, landed a job in radiologic technology at Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Allied Health and moved to Philadelphia. Crump, whose father lived here, eventually closed his St. Louis gallery. He began teaching art in the Philadelphia School System in 1977, the year he and Tate married.
Tate rose to chairman of her department at Jefferson. “I liked teaching radiologic technology, but the administrative work was rough,” she said. She held positions in other health care settings and earned a Master’s degree in health science education and evaluation. In 1983, Tate traveled to Germany and Holland to study health care in those countries.
“I was in the first trimester with my second child at the time,” said Tate, whose sons, Lucien III and Brendan are now 31 and 28, respectively. Lucien is a stock broker while Brendan is a successful songwriter. “I used to say I had three children, my husband being the oldest,” Tate said. “My sons love nature and once kept a snake in the house. My husband knew all about it but didn’t tell me.”
A knowledge of medical issues and Crump’s priorities guided Tate’s next steps. She launched the Lucien Crump Gallery Art Education Resource Center, a nonprofit, in 2007. “Lucien had compassion toward women and children, especially single parents, because he’d seen his mother struggle after his father left the family,” Tate said.
To honor Crump’s commitments, Tate began “Art from the Heart” in March, 2007. Tate hosts a weekly workshop for women in recovery from addictions. They work in a variety of media, including knitting, crocheting, painting, drawing and quilting to release their feelings. One group of women is HIV-positive.
“These women come faithfully for two hours twice a month,” said Tate, familiar with issues the women face, thanks to her clinical experience.
“They’re goal-oriented. They have an urgency to accomplish things. Some of the women have never held a needle and thread before. Here they have a safe space to express feelings and learn skills that may help them remain sober.”
In 2009, Tate took the gallery’s mission a step further with “Art from the Heart with Photography and Videography,” an after-school program for grieving children. Elementary school principals and counselors in Northwest Philadelphia refer students. A van brings the children from school to the program at 4 p.m. and takes them home at 6 p.m.
First, the children have a healthful snack. “They’ve begun to read nutrition labels and become savvy about salt and sugar content,” Tate said. “They eat foods like clementines, new to some of them.” The children also follow Tate’s bedrock rule: “What’s said here, stays here.”
“I chose to explore grief because many adults think it doesn’t affect children,” said Tate, whose father died when she was eight. The children use painting, photography, puppetry, doll-making and other media to show feelings for which words may elude them.
They seem especially drawn to puppets. “The children stand behind a screen and move the puppets. It frees them to reveal shattering events. In one puppet show a child shared a story about shocking violence. When I asked her if she’d made it up, she said no, that it really happened.”
Ellen Contrevo, owner of Chestnut Hill’s Natural Cuts Salon, volunteers with the program. She teaches participants photography and videography. “Ellen shows them how to use a camera,” Tate said. “She takes them to Cliveden’s grounds or nearby parks to see and sometimes photograph nature. She also shows them how to videotape program activities.”
A counselor is always on hand in case a child needs immediate care.
The program runs three days a week from October through June. At year’s end, Tate asks the children for suggestions about the program. “They’d like to come every day and make more dolls, both the boys and the girls,” Tate said. “A counselor said that the dolls allowed them to create families.
“In an ideal world, the children would come five days a week, but it’s a cost issue. Transportation eats up 85 percent of our budget. We do what we can.”
Donations to the Lucien Crump Gallery Art Education Resource Center, Inc., 6380 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19144, are 100 percent tax-deductible. For more information visit www.crumpgallery.org or call Loretta Tate at 215-843-8788.